Dominican Americans face ‘permanent impact’ of Flight 587 crash 20 years later

No matter how many reminders go by, we must never forget the magnitude of the loss," he said. Adriano Espaillat, the first Dominican American


Cid Wilson remembers fear and disbelief.

Twenty years ago, the world's second airplane crash shook a terrified nation two months after the September 11 attacks.

On November 12, 2001, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in Queens, New York, shortly after takeoff. All 260 people aboard the Dominican Republic were killed, along with five people on the ground. About 90 percent of the passengers were of Dominican origin.

One of Wilson's closest friends, Félix Sánchez, was on a plane.

"We've been waiting and waiting," Wilson, 51, president and CEO of Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, told NBC News. He recalled meeting in Sanchez's mother's apartment, "praying for anything that he might have missed the flight or taken another flight, which was not unusual, because there were so many different planes during the day."

Sánchez was 28 years old when he died. A budding financial adviser met Wilson after joining a professional group called Dominicans on Wall Street.

"I still remember going to Arka Lounge to celebrate life after 9/11," said Wilson, referring to an upscale club that became a hangout for young professionals who lived or grew up in a large Latin area with Washington Heights immigrants. He recalled how devastating the impact of the Flight 587 crash was on Dominican Americans in New York City, following the worst terrorist attacks in the nation's history.

Félix Sánchez, second left, along with other Dominican American teenagers at the Arka Lounge in the Washington Heights area of ​​New York City in Aug. 29, 2001.

Félix Sánchez, second left, and other young Dominican American arka Lounge in the Washington Heights area of ​​New York City in Aug. 29, 2001.Cid Wilson

The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that the possible cause of the accident was a combination of pilot error and a design problem on the aircraft.

Once terrorism was cited as the cause of the crash, many Dominicans felt that the mainstream media was making rapid progress.

Photo: A woman weeps as she listens to the names of loved ones being called during the Flight 587 memorial service for Flight 587 in Belle Harbor, N.Y., Nov. 12, 2008.

A woman mourns as she listens to the names of loved ones called during the Flight 587 memorial service for Flight 587 in Belle Harbor in Queens, N.Y., Nov. 12, 2008.Stuart Ramson / AP file

"On 9/11, all New Yorkers and Americans have gone through the same ordeal together," Ramona Hernández, director of the Dominican Studies Institute at New York City College, previously told NBC News. “Then the Dominican community suffered another catastrophe. It was very difficult. ”

“More than 200 people died in just 2 1/2 minutes; that is really unbelievable, ”he said.

A permanent memorial to the victims of the accident stands in Belle Harbor, Queens, designed by Dominican artist Freddy Rodríguez. Scores of people who attended the 20th anniversary of the tragedy on Friday morning laid flowers at the memorial wall to honor the lives of the deceased.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio addressed those gathered at the memorial during the gray and rainy day. "Twenty years ago, it 's amazing to think - it' s hard to believe that 20 years have passed but we can all feel, right here, what it was like in those days just after 9/11, to feel that pain already ... in public and without pain, find something beautiful and dignified. "

This fatal disaster brought life-changing changes as pilot training programs were reviewed and Airbus made improvements to its aircraft in an effort to make flying safer. Stories such as that of an unmarried man, a long-term partner of an accident victim who was denied the benefits of a disaster survivor also led, in part, to New York in legalizing same-sex marriage in 2011.

The crash is still haunting the Washington Heights' Dominican community to this day as it looks back decades later.

New Jersey resident Jonathan Bourdier, lost his cousin, Miguelina Fabre Delgado, 26, on Flight 587. Bourdier posted an Instagram insult to him. "We thought of you in love today, but that is nothing new. We thought of you yesterday, and days before that too. We think of you in peace. We often speak your name," she wrote.

"This tragedy continues to have a lasting impact on the loved ones left behind and our community," Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., The first Dominican American elected to Congress, in a statement. "No matter how many anniversaries we have, we must not forget the magnitude of this loss and the eternal impact it will have on the lives of many families across the country."

Both Espaillat and Wilson have been instrumental in helping their distressed community following the tragedy. Wilson said he recalls that it took weeks for authorities to confirm some of the victims amid the difficulty of working at the scene of the accident. Espaillat was a state assembly at the time.

"I was with Espaillat when he visited families," said Wilson. "His office has become a center of vital information about the accident as people wait to hear from their loved ones."

Firefighters find evidence of human remains in the wreckage of the American Airlines Flight 587 in part of Rockaway Beach in Queens, N.Y., Nov. 14, 2001.